Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: Which is Right for You?

Jewelry Metals

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: Which is Right for You?

Upon first inspection, both stainless steel and sterling silver jewelry can look identical. Yet, for many, the sound of sterling silver has a nicer ring to it than stainless steel. 

Sterling silver contains about 92.5% silver and is generally perceived to be a more premium option. But could super strong, corrosion-resistant stainless steel be the right choice for you? There's more to looks - and so although these metals can look the same, they both have their different strengths and weaknesses. 

Plus, there are various factors to consider to make a well-informed decision when considering stainless steel vs sterling silver.

Physical Characteristics

Choosing the right physical characteristics for your needs is essential when selecting jewelry or other metal-made items. Stainless steel and sterling silver are a lot different in many ways - apart from looking similar. 

They are both metal alloys, yet they use vastly different types of metals in their makeup to achieve their final form. 

Stainless Steel 

Stainless steel normally has a minimum of 10.5% chromium within its makeup, 1.2% or less carbon, and a mixture of other metals. Plus, there are actually a whopping 150 grades of stainless steel, yet there are approximately 15 that are commonly used. 

It is a very cost-effective metal that can be manipulated to look like sterling silver, and it's more durable. It won't dent easily, and you won't have to worry about oxidation because of the chromium added to this alloy metal. 

Furthermore, stainless steel can look like other precious metals such as white gold, for example.

Yet, with all its durability and rigidness, stainless steel is tough to reshape and repair. It could be that you want to resize a stainless steel ring, but you find your request declined because stainless steel is notoriously difficult to manipulate by hand. 

Your only other option would be to determine if your ring's manufacturer can resize it with industrial tools and equipment, which will be pricey.

Another issue is that some stainless steel jewelry can have nickel blended into the alloy. The problem with nickel is that some people can have allergies triggered when they are exposed to it. Also, there are some questionable environmental issues with nickel mining.

There is hypoallergenic jewelry now available, but you'll be limiting your options if stainless steel is what you're after.

Lastly, unlike silver, stainless steel won't really appreciate in value. It will be affordable, so you can buy it for personal sentiments and not as an investment.

Sterling Silver 

As we mentioned, Sterling silver is 92.5% silver, with the remaining percentage being other metals - typically copper. To know if copper is used, you'll notice 925 stamped onto the metal.

Sterling silver is much softer and more malleable than stainless steel. Jewelry makers craft it into beautifully intricate jewelry pieces, and it can usually be reshaped and resized by hand. Yet, sterling silver can be made stronger as some jewelers add palladium to the alloy.

You can expect to see many engagement rings, pendants, and necklaces made with this precious and attractive-looking precious metal. It should also have less of a smell than stainless steel because silver is odorless. 

Plus, you don't usually find nickel added into sterling silver, so there should be no allergy issues to worry about.

Just like stainless steel, it can come in a variety of finishes and colors. For example, you can opt for a shiny or matte sterling silver ring with colors ranging from black to bright white - although the classic silver coloring with a dazzling shine is arguably the best option for many.

A very charming aspect of sterling silver is that it gradually wears down to create its own unique and imperfect finish. Stainless steel will remain the same, while your sterling silver can be cherished for its continually evolving naturally developed finish.

Some people will see the way sterling silver wears down and ages quickly as a negative. Additionally, sterling can scratch easily - more so than any other precious metal. Therefore a good care routine is paramount for keeping sterling silver in top condition.

Another downside is that because this precious metal is so soft, it's not advised to mount gemstones directly onto it. However, gold or other stronger metals can be used for the mount.

Lastly, there is a lot of fake sterling silver out there, online and in stores - so it's crucial to find a trusted seller if you want the real deal.

Is Sterling Silver Best For Jewelry?

With all the differences between stainless steel and sterling silver, sterling silver has a decisive edge when it comes to jewelry. This is because it mostly contains the highly regarded and valuable precious metal - silver. 

It can be a little more expensive than stainless steel, though, but there are some great benefits of owning it in jewelry form. It's widely accessible, and jewelers love to play around with its malleability to make timeless classic pieces.

Now, here are some of the key benefits of opting for sterling silver.

1. Silver Investments

Silver is a commodity that seems to increase steadily in value year on year. If you buy a lovely jewelry piece made from sterling silver, it can be seen as an investment, as much as a showpiece to be worn on special occasions.

You could opt for pure silver pieces, but they can be more easily damaged. So sterling silver provides you with a nice balance of practical functionality and then the long-lasting and ever-increasing value of the silver within its composition.

2. Malleability

Since sterling silver is so malleable, you can find some fantastic-looking jewelry designs - whether it's a ring, necklace, or whatever else you're after.

However, don't let the malleability fool you into thinking that sterling silver won't stand the test of time. Due to its alloy composition, the added metals give sterling extra strength and durability while keeping it lightweight. 

What's more, if you fancy a change, you can always customize your sterling silver jewelry at little expense. Adding engravings onto this material isn't very difficult, and they add a personal touch to an otherwise potentially generic design.

That's why so many people opt for sterling silver engagement rings - so they can etch words of love and commitment onto this sparkling material.

3. Anti-Tarnishing

Nowadays, you can get your sterling silver jewelry conveniently treated with anti-tarnishing agents. 

Sterling silver is easily rhodium-polished or coated to make it resistant to tarnishing. The result is a long-lasting, beautiful, high-gloss finish. Although, rhodium-finished pieces need additional work if you wish to resize them as they become more rigid after treatment.

Another option with sterling silver is to have it plated with pure silver. The extra silver coating helps your item avoid tarnishing because pure silver is more resistant to oxidation. 

The only issue here is that pure silver is quite soft and can become scratched or warped more easily than sterling silver.

4. Suited For Any Occasion

The gray in silver's shiny brilliance is such a good neutral color that can be matched with almost anything. It can be worn formally or informally and still look the part. 

Also, it can be matched with various other metals such as gold or platinum jewelry pieces - so you're going to have tons of versatility with your sterling silver jewelry.

In fact, a solid bit of advice is to get your favorite everyday jewelry in sterling silver, such as a statement ring. Then you could maybe add other variants to your collection to compliment your "base jewelry."

5. Build a Collection

Following on from the last sections, we should stress that you can build an exciting sterling silver jewelry collection due to the many designs available and personalize them. 

Having multiple statement pieces can add a little variety and spice into your daily outfit. And sterling silver is considered high-end jewelry, which means many top designers choose it to create memorable pieces.

Jewelry Care - For Sterling Silver and Stainless Steel

Stainless steel wins over sterling silver in the cleaning and maintenance realm. Because it doesn't oxidize and tarnish, stainless steel needs very little care and attention to keep it in good shape. 

When it is dull or dusty, use soap and water to clean your stainless steel jewelry. This works well on your jewelry to get rid of any toxins and grime. Choose a gentle liquid soap and pour hot water into a tub. Let the stainless steel jewelry soak for several minutes in the steamy solution.

Looking after your sterling silver will require a good care routine to prevent it from tarnishing and getting scratched or scuffed. But this is all part of the experience of owning high-end jewelry - and it's really worth it if done right!

There's a charm in taking care of sterling silver jewelry pieces, and we'd like to give you a few tips to help you along the way.

Here's a simple cleaning routine for sterling silver that you can do anywhere from two to five times a year - or more if you have the time.

1. Use a reputable and purpose-made cleaner for silver jewelry to make the silver appear shiny. Then to a soft rag, apply a small amount of the cleaner.

2. Continue several times to rub the silver slowly and gently.

3. In warm water, clean your silver. As it will be less corrosive than other varieties, we suggest hard water.

4. By blotting it dry with a cloth or towel, very easily remove the water from your silver jewelry or silverware.

Alternatively, there are reputable jewelry cleaning services out there that can provide you with exceptional service if you don't want to clean your silver. These professionals would most likely also be able to do any repair work required for your silver.

Also, you can easily make your own with daily household items for those who do not want to purchase jewelry cleaner.

Make Your Own Jewelry Cleaner At Home

An aluminum-soda bath is useful when you need to clean sterling silver to remove tarnishing. Cover the bottom of a wide baking dish with aluminum foil, with the shiny side up. Use ceramic or glass bakeware - never something made from metal - to avoid unwanted chemical reactions.

Next, apply baking soda and water to fill the container. You need about 1.5 tablespoons of soda for every gallon of water. Put in the tarnished silver and bring it to a boil for 15 seconds. Remove the silver from the water using kitchen tongs. Leave the silverware on paper towels to cool off and try to blot any remaining liquid out.

The Pros and Cons - Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver

Now that we've looked at both alloy metals, it's good to recap and point out all the strengths and pitfalls in summary.

We think both metals can look very beautiful and classy, so it comes down to which pros and cons speak to you the most.

Stainless Steel Pros

  • Stainless steel will not dent or get scratched
  • It's exceptionally durable 
  • Chromium makes it impervious to oxidation 
  • It will look the same, year after year
  • Various beautiful finishes available
  • It can be plated with precious metals
  • It's very inexpensive

Stainless Steel Cons

  • Extremely rigid - hard to resize or repair
  • Stainless steel can be hypoallergenic
  • Typically doesn't appreciate in value

Sterling Silver Pros

  • It's a high-end precious metal
  • Large percentage of pure silver used
  • Very malleable
  • Many attractive finishes available
  • More durable than pure silver
  • Palladium can be added for increased hardness
  • Naturally evolving finish
  • Every piece will end up unique
  • Easy to engrave
  • A good investment opportunity

Sterling Silver Cons

  • Can age quickly in ways that some people don't like
  • It can be dented and scratched if not cared for properly
  • It's easy to be swindled by jewelry sellers selling fake sterling silver

The Final Verdict

Both stainless steel and sterling silver are very viable alloy metals for jewelry pieces and various other items. 

If all you want is full functionality without worrying about tarnishing - stainless steel could be the right choice for you. 

But, sterling silver as a precious metal has a uniqueness you can't get with stainless steel. It might require more care and attention over the years, but we think it's well worth the minimal effort you'll need to put in.

Who's the winner between stainless steel vs sterling silver? We'll go with sterling silver! 

Check out our blog for more useful jewelry tips.


  • Tina

    Great article. I’ve always wanted a deep dive into the differences.

  • TIM Cornwall

    In the end of it all I would say Sterling silver nudges the winner.

  • TIM Cornwall

    In the end of it all I would say Sterling silver nudges the winner.

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